A Psalm of David.

This is the fourth Psalm speaking prophetically of David’s plight during the events taking place in the future Kingdom trial described in Psalm 2.  It was no doubt also written at the time of his flight from Absalom, and gives us more of his thoughts at that tumultuous and terrible time.  David seems to be fearing for his life in this Psalm, and cries out to God to spare him.

1.  O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,

David realizes that the LORD is angry with him for his sin with Bathsheba and the slaying of Uriah.  He fears that the LORD’s anger will result in his death, and he cries out to Him for mercy.

Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.

We know from II Samuel 11:27 that “the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.”  David fears that this displeasure will result in his own destruction.

2.  Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak;

David calls upon the LORD for grace.  It appears that David’s terrible plight was beginning to affect his health, and he feared falling into some physical ailment that would end his life.

O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.

David can feel the illness within him, and cries unto God for healing.  Many of us have no doubt experienced similar illness caused by extreme distress.  In those times of illness we too should call upon the LORD for healing.

3.  My soul also is greatly troubled;

Yes, and this was the source of his illness.  How terrible can be the physical results of tortured emotions!

The soul here indicates the state of David’s emotions, as the word soul has special reference to one’s feelings, emotions, and desires.

But You, O LORD-how long?

It seems that David’s great emotion causes him to break his rhythm and cry desperately for help in the midst of his sentence.  David longed for the LORD to deliver him, yet that deliverance seemed far away and long in coming.  Thus David’s distress.

4.  Return, O LORD, deliver me!

David calls on the LORD to return His favor to him and deliver him from his distress and his illness.  The word “me” is again the Hebrew word nephesh or soul, but here its use is different.  “Soul” can also be a word just used for “self,” and thus “me” is a good interpretation, if not a good translation.  We would like to know that the Hebrew word used here is nephesh or “soul” so that we can get a complete picture of the Biblical use of the word.  Unfortunately, translations like these that disguise the word make it difficult for us as English readers to get a good grasp of the Bible’s teaching on the soul.

Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake!

The Hebrew is “lovingkindness’,” which is the same as grace.  David wanted the LORD to save him for the sake of His grace.  Is that not the very way He saves all of us as well…through His grace?

5.  For in death there is no remembrance of You;

There can be no remembrance of God in death since remembrance takes place in the brain, and the brain will have returned to dust at this point.  This is a fact that is hard for many to accept.

I remember talking with one gentleman who insisted to me that, though his body will die, he knows that he will immediately go to Heaven and stand before God.  My question to him then was how he expected to stand before God if he had no legs?  At this point he accused me of being ridiculous.  But is this not the very same kind of thing that David is saying here?

This is not the only verse that speaks after this manner.  In Psalm 30:9 we read, “What profit is there in my blood, When I go down to the pit?  Will the dust praise You?  Will it declare Your truth?”  Psalm 88:10-12 declares, “Will You work wonders for the dead?  Shall the dead arise and praise You?  Selah.  Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?  Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?  Shall Your works be known in the dark?  And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”  Psalm 115:17 declares, “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence.”  This appears to be the clear teaching of the Psalms on the subject…that the dead can neither remember nor praise the LORD.  This is because, as I said, they have no brain to remember and no mouth to praise, since both lie decaying in the grave.

Moreover, the book of Psalms is not the only book to teach this.  In Isaiah 38:18-19, Hezekiah sings praise to God for extending his life and declares, “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.  The living, the living man, he shall praise You, As I do this day; The father shall make known Your truth to the children.”  And in Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”

The book of Ecclesiastes is oft maligned for its teachings.  I have heard it said of the book that it is “a Divinely-inspired record of man’s faulty reasoning.”  In other words, God purposely had Solomon write down things that are wrong!  Now we know that sometimes God quotes people who believe things that are wrong.  For example, in the book of Job we read quotations from Satan, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, all of whom seem to have had bad ideas about Job and about God.  Nevertheless, the narrator of the story (God) is not incorrect, and the point of the book (that these four were wrong) is obvious.  But to believe that a whole book is incorrect?  That God purposely placed an entire book in the Bible that is wrong just to show us what wrong thinking is like?  Surely we are all surrounded by incorrect thinking!  Why would God need to write a book demonstrating it for us?  This does not seem to make sense.

So why do some say that this book is a Divine record of wrong thinking?  I believe that the biggest reason is its teaching on the state of the dead!  This passage makes it clear that the dead cannot do anything.  Most believe that the dead can do many things, so they reject the book as being truth.  Yet look at what we will have to do if we accept this teaching!  David in the Psalms taught the same thing!  Must we then reject “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” as “a Divinely-inspired record of man’s faulty reasoning”?  And what of Hezekiah, the author of many Psalms including, probably, Psalm 119.  Must we rend “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet And a light unto my path” from being the truth as well?  Are the writings of Hezekiah also “Divinely-inspired records of man’s faulty reasoning”?

Some skirt this issue by claiming that the Old Testament writers did not have as clear a view of what happens after death as the New Testament writers.  But do we forget that the Writer of the Old Testament is the same as the Writer of the New…the Living Word Himself?  How could He have an unclear view of death?  We seem to imply that we now are smarter than God was then.  Can this be true, or are we in fact the ones who have an unclear view of death?

No, this passage is not Divinely-inspired error, but rather Divinely-inspired truth, and we should accept it as such, as well as all similar passages.  The dead cannot remember the LORD, as this passage says.

In the grave who will give You thanks?

The dead cannot experience thankfulness, as this too requires a mind to think and realize the good things one has.  David pleads with God to keep him alive so that he can remember Him and thank Him, as a dead David could do neither of these things.

6.  I am weary with my groaning;

All those who have suffered illness of body and soul can attest to this.  Constant, chronic pain can indeed be a great weariness, and David was feeling its full effects.

All night I make my bed swim;

David’s illness was caused by grief of heart, and he seems to have spent this night in nothing but sorrow.  This then cannot be the same night as the peaceful one experienced in Psalm 3, but must be a later one wherein David’s sorrow did not allow him to sleep.

I drench my couch with my tears.

This fact of David’s night of sorrow is repeated to emphasize the great suffering he was experiencing.

7.  My eye wastes away because of grief;

David symbolizes his state of health by his eyes.  David was wasting away through grief, and this was affecting his physical health to a great degree.  Many can no doubt sympathize with this.  There are times when all of us may experience health problems related to extreme sorrow or distress.

It grows old because of all my enemies.

David’s grief was centered in the enemies who wanted to take his life.  As we know, they included his own dear son and the people whom he had been sworn to protect as king and whom he loved so much.  No wonder he was filled with grief when these of all people became his enemies!

8.  Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity;

This is the figure of speech Apostrophe wherein the speaker turns away from the one he is addressing to speak to another.  In this case, David interrupts his prayer to speak to those who were causing him such grief.

For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.

His aside to the workers of iniquity was due to his assurance that the LORD had heard his prayer for help.  Apparently he is now assured of returning health, and the last few verses ring with triumph.

9.  The LORD has heard my supplication;

The same thought is repeated three times for poetic emphasis.

The LORD will receive my prayer.

To receive, in this case, means to answer favorably, as we can see from the context.

10.  Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled;

This would be the result of the LORD’s response to his prayer for help.

Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.

The turning back of David’s enemies in the past days of Absalom was indeed sudden, as David and his men defeated them in battle.  In the same way David’s enemies of the future will be defeated suddenly as the LORD Himself sees to their defeat and destruction.